Applying Real-World Training to Create Real Skills

Building Apprenticeship Programs that Work


The UK government has a long history of partnering with industry to establish apprenticeship programs to develop job skills within the workforce and help address unemployment. The country even holds a National Apprenticeship Week each year to celebrate apprenticeship programs and their positive impact on individuals, businesses and the economy. While the U.S. doesn’t yet have a formal program to honor the power of apprenticeships, the United States Department of Labor reported that in 2014 more than 170,500 individuals entered the apprenticeship system, which has over 410,000 total active apprentices nationwide. At Raytheon Professional Services (RPS) we are involved in – and passionate about – creating apprenticeship and vocational training programs for our global customers, that support strategic business objectives and result in a more relevant and ready workforce.

In order to understand how to create a successful program we should first review the different types of entry-level training programs in use today:

  • Internship—career-specific serving to teach students about respective fields
  • Hybrid model—employee attends formal training classes part of the time and also has the opportunity to practice skills in a real “on-the-job” environment
  • Apprenticeship—employee works for a period of time under a qualified person or participates in a company training program to learn their trade

While internships have their place for those already enrolled in college, the hybrid and full-time apprenticeship models offer a powerful, and much needed, solution for a future workforce that is highly skilled and able to meet the needs of our economy. Today, the number of active participants in apprenticeships is nearly 35,000 more than in 2013. This is an indication of the growing value of establishing new opportunities for career foundations and practical learning experiences.

What makes an apprenticeship program work?

Whether we are talking about the hybrid or traditional model, apprenticeships work because they have become a valuable solution that can be implemented to train both entry-level workers and experienced workers that need to be upskilled in order to remain relevant in our quickly evolving job market. A good example is UpSkill America, which launched in January. This initiative led by the private sector and supported by the White House Administration closely mirrors the apprenticeship model in an effort to “help workers of all ages earn a shot at better, higher paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education.” Upskill America utilizes the model of apprenticeships to encourage learning new skillsets across all employment levels to help build existing employee skillsets while fulfilling employer needs.

Another great example of a strategically planned apprenticeship program is the one created by the Volkswagen Group of America. In an article that recently appeared in CLO Magazine, Volkswagen discusses introducing the German model of apprenticeships to workers in the U.S. In partnership with Chattanooga State Community College, Volkswagen offers a program for workers at their plant in Chattanooga which combines classroom learning at the college with hands-on training at the plant. This unique program provides apprentices with both a certification as a skilled team member and an associate’s degree of applied science. Another interesting element built into the program was the emphasis placed on teaching Volkswagen’s corporate culture and ensuring uniformity of training all over the world. The goal is to ensure workers can adapt to and work at Volkswagen plants around the world, and contribute to the long-term success of the company and the employee.

While, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than 5 percent of high school graduates train as apprentices, there is a paradigm shift toward building apprenticeship programs that work. Volkswagen and companies like those involved in UpSkill America are paving the road to more effective on-the-job programs for the development of entry-level employees that will grow the power of our workforce here in the U.S.

At RPS, we help partners like the U.S. Army, General Motors and Vauxhall to develop hundreds of skilled workers through apprenticeship type programs that are designed to deliver results for the long term. Is your organization taking advantage of apprenticeships or upskilling to retain and grow talent? We welcome your thoughts and experiences here in the comments, or you can catch up with us on Twitter or LinkedIn.